New Brunswick Mayor Cahill Visits Community Farm Market’s Latest Location Downtown
It’s lunchtime on Wednesday in downtown New Brunswick. There are plenty of establishments to grab a bite to eat – fast food places, cafes, coffee and frozen yogurt shops, but now there’s something else you can grab while downtown – all the fixings for a home-cooked, healthy meal made with locally grown produce.
On a sunny afternoon on Sept. 18, New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill joined members of the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) and mingled with shoppers at the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market (NBCFM) at its newest location in Kilmer Square. This is the third location for NBCFM, which maintains its initial location on Jones Avenue and has a second location during the semester on the George H. Cook campus.
In a partnership with Johnson & Johnson and Rutgers University, the NBCFM is administered by the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Paul Helms, senior program coordinator for NBCFM, values the support the market has received from Mayor Cahill who advocates for hunger issues. The Mayor has also been involved in the local food movement by helping to establish and officially recognize the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance in its efforts to provide access to affordable healthy food for all residents of the City. “The City has been very helpful to us as we try to serve New Brunswick through the Farmers Market,” noted Helms.
Cahill summed up the City’s commitment in spending time and money and as a partner in the Alliance, is “so that no one in New Brunswick goes hungry.”
Like other major cities in New Jersey, New Brunswick has grappled with being an urban food desert for residents. In urban food deserts, the groceries available for local residents, many of whom are low income or elderly, are restricted to a limited selection of staples available from small corner stores or remote supermarkets, hindered by limited access to transportation. New Brunswick has made great strides in alleviating these issues through various initiatives, one being the NBCFM.
Nurgul Fitzgerald, assistant extension specialist in nutrition and co-principal investigator on the NBCFM project, explains how the program connects the dots to improve access to healthy food. “The program connects local farmers with the community; it provides evidence-based, reliable health information to the public through the university and makes the best of available resources.”
The health information component is conducted by Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) personnel who are present at the markets with educational information, recipes and activities for kids. RCE personnel also advise low income customers how to acquire and use state-issued Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers that are available to seniors and participants in the WIC program. An electronic device at the market allows customers to use Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) debit cards. This is a significant step in connecting people with resources. While the FMNP vouchers can be redeemed like checks by qualified vendors, a disadvantage of the SNAP program is it uses electronic debit cards. Hence, if a farm market vendor doesn’t accept credit cards or doesn’t have a modified card device with a USDA Food and Nutrition Services number, it can’t process SNAP purchases.
Part of NBCFM’s strategy is to serve many of the diverse groups that make up New Brunswick’s population. The Jones Avenue location is within walking distance of low-income neighborhoods. The Cook campus location provides a unique opportunity for students on the Cook and Douglass campuses to buy farm fresh produce. This was an important step, as college students are a segment of the population, who, once removed from their home environments, may abandon consumption of wholesome foods. Faculty and staff on the campus benefit from this location that is walking distance from offices, dorms and campus apartments. The new location at Kilmer Square provides access to yet another portion of New Brunswick’s population. Bill Hallman, chair of the Department of Human Ecology and principal investigator of the NBCFM project, notes the relevance of this step. “We’ve wanted to have a downtown location for the market since the very beginning of the NBCFM. With J&J’s help, this has finally become a successful reality.” In this new location, downtown workers and residents, in addition to Rutgers College Avenue Campus students, faculty and staff have easy access to a farmer’s market.
A NBCFM shopper can indeed find all the fixings for dinner at the market. Pop’s Farm Market has tables filled with great finds for a farmer’s market in September– the end-of-the-summer produce: peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, nectarines and watermelons, in addition to the incoming fall produce: winter squashes, greens, potatoes and apples. Canal Farms has fresh organic produce and fresh eggs. Veggies aside, some may be surprised to find local meat at the market, so local in fact, that it was actually raised in New Brunswick. This may be surprising considering New Brunswick is a city, but tucked on the edge of the George H. Cook campus is the college farm, where the NJAES Animal Care Program has developed direct-marketing programs of animal products produced on the Cook campus farm, including the sale of pork, goat meat, beef and lamb. The proceeds from the sales directly support the NJAES Animal Farm’s mission to provide teaching, research and outreach on animal science and agriculture. And finally, what would dinner be without bread on the table? How about bread baked in New Brunswick? New Brunswick-based Elijah’s Promise Community Supported Bakery links Culinary School students with the community. “Raisin’ Dough” products use non-bromated, unbleached flour in their baked goods, which are made by hand, in small batches using steam-injected ovens for the best crust. Purchases of Raisin’ Dough items help provide revenue for tuition and expenses of Promise Culinary students.
The NBCFM is located downtown at Kilmer Square Park, 108 Albany Street, on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Thursdays, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. NBCFM is on Cook Campus, between Barnes and Noble bookstore and the greenhouses. The market is at its original location off of Georges Road at the Farmers Market Pavilion and Gardens, 178 Jones Avenue, on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The market will run until the end of October for the 2013 season. For more information, visit the NBCFM web page.